What to Do on a No-Win Business Situation


One of the toughest lessons I had to learn as a businessman was to identify and successfully deal with a no-win situation. That’s a very difficult situation for an entrepreneur to navigate because most of us are optimists by nature. We want to believe we can rescue the relationship, deliver on our promise,s and save the day. But with experience and better understanding of human behavior, I have come to believe that sometimes the best course of action is to cut your losses and walk away before the hole you find yourself in becomes your grave. No one wants to admit failure and throw in the towel too soon, but here are a few scenarios that if you find yourself in, you should consider walking away.

no win situation

Lost trust. Whether one or both side loses trust, it’s time to call it quits. If you cannot trust your partner, an employee, a vendor, or a client, nothing good can come from the ongoing relationship. The day you come to the realization that “I cannot trust that person,” you need an exit strategy. The sooner you do it, the better.

Unreasonable expectations. High expectations help your product and organization grow to the next level. Unrealistic expectations kill the joy of a project and the spirit of a team, no matter how committed it is. Some clients are unreasonable because they are ignorant of what it takes to get the job done: “it should take you only a few minutes to change the ‘skin’ of our website.”  They can potentially be brought around through education, but they are the exception. Some are unreasonable because they cannot be pleased. “Yes it’s what I wanted but you should have fought me harder on it because I don’t like it now. And you shouldn’t charge me for the changes because I’m not happy.” And then there’s the deadly demanding-ignorant combination, truly a living nightmare.

Ungrateful taker. Historically, the clients to whom I have given the deepest discounts, often at a financial loss, are usually the ones who demand more and more without much appreciation or understanding for the true value of what they’re getting. It amazes me to see that happen over and over again.

In business as well as in life, we need to know when to say enough. I use to think that walking away from a client or a project was a sign of weakness, the mark of a quitter. But today it’s the sign of a wise person who knows that not every relationship is salvageable.

Have you ever faced a no-win situation? What did you do?

  • Jim Wells

    Maurilio, I really need to hear this. I have a no-win situation right now. Great timing.

  • Grant

    I have worked with unrealistic expectations before and I agree with you. Working with unreasonable people is truly painful.

    • If you can determine that before you began working with them, you should walk away even before your start the relationship. I have grown to trust my own instincts on this one.

  • Lindsey Williams

    Maurilio, I have tried in the past to salvage a relationship where trust had eroded and after a long painful road, I finally called it quits. I wish I had done it long before. It cost me a lot of money and suffering. Completely agree with you.

  • That's great insight. We are sometimes faced with customer relationships and B2B relationships that we need to walk away from. In regards to your expectations point, I have gotten into some consulting scenarios wherein the expectations placed on me were unrealistic. I have learned to do a better job of clarifying those expectations on the front end. Good post.

    • Managing expectations on the front end is critical in any relationship. But even that sometimes cannot prevent the unreasonable person from being, well, unreasonable.

  • Ken Sien

    This is a big eye-opener for me as well. I look back on some of the client relationships that became damaged and trying to win back their confidence, only to lose. Your blog has showed me that I need to be more aware of those personalities that have no interest in working together. Thanks for the word of wisdom.

  • Have a good friend going through a no-win job situation, Maurilio. What you said is right on target …

  • Jennifer

    I found your blog searching for a solution to an unsolvable personal problem. Eternal optimist is correct and incidentally I am an entrepreneur! You have helped to open my eyes and I wanted to say thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  • jeff

    I may not be as experienced as the rest of these competant business folks but I do believe i work hard and treat the people I suround myself with as equals. I have been let down time and time again by over giving in the hopes that they would be even more motivated…instead they un-deliver and lag. Ultimately it ends up depressing and self-defeating to help those who dont want more from themselves. What do you do? I guess your right …………cut your losses.it one HARD Lesson. Just another opinion..nJeM

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